World

Missing woman believed to have been killed in alligator attack

Victim may be Japanese citizen, is still missing; gator captured and killed

AP, Kyodo

A woman who disappeared while walking her dogs near a Florida lake Friday was likely killed by an alligator that was later captured, wildlife officials said.

A necropsy confirmed the gator bit Shizuka Matsuki, 47, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said in a statement. The statement said officials were searching for her body.

Commission spokesman Rob Klepper said they were able to positively identify her from evidence collected from the necropsy of the alligator, but he wouldn’t specify what that evidence was.

The Japanese Consulate in Miami said there was a possibility that Matsuki was a Japanese national and that it was working to confirm if this was the case.

A witness told authorities he saw her walking two dogs and then noticed the dogs alone, barking near the water. One of the dogs had a fresh gash on its side, said Davie Police Detective Viviana Gallinal.

The witness called police when he couldn’t find the woman, Gallinal said.

Earlier news media reports indicated the witness reported seeing the gator drag the woman into the water. Police did not immediately clarify the discrepancy.

Trappers have spotted a 12-foot (3.5-meter) alligator in the pond in Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park, she said.

Jim Borrelli, a friend of Matsuki, said she and her husband have walked their dogs in the park previously. The couple did not live in the neighborhood, but he said she liked to find different places to walk the dogs. Residents said they often saw her walking them in the area.

Borrelli said Matsuki’s husband, who was out of town and trying to fly home, sent him to the park to get more information after being contacted by Davie Police. Borrelli said he was also asked to break the news to the couple’s son, who is in his 20s and lives in New York.

“I’m praying that nothing happened to her,” Borrelli said.

A man who identified himself as Matsuki’s brother and several other family friends gathered at the scene. He declined to talk but friends described the missing woman as a great friend who loved to cook.

Alligators are opportunistic feeders that will eat what is readily available and easily overpowered. Feeding wild alligators is illegal because they could lose their fear of humans.

Fatal attacks on humans remain rare. According to the wildlife commission, the likelihood of a Florida resident being seriously injured during an unprovoked alligator incident in Florida is roughly 1 in 3.2 million.

From 1948 to 2017, the commission has documented 401 people bitten by alligators, including 24 fatalities. The most recent death occurred in 2016, when a 2-year-old boy playing near the water’s edge at a Walt Disney World resort was killed.

The park where Matsuki disappeared Friday is near the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, a major Miami-area tourist and entertainment attraction.

Authorities closed the park Friday, but passers-by said they were not surprised to hear about an alligator lurking in the water.

“Any body of water in Florida, you’ve got to know at some point or another there’s an alligator,” said Heather Porrata, who lives nearby.

Sharon Estupinan said a park ranger warned her to walk her dogs farther away from the water’s edge after she saw a 10-foot (3-meter) gator in the pond three days ago.

“I was afraid,” she said. “Every time I walked the dogs during the day, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve gotta keep away from there. I have to call my dogs,’ so they wouldn’t get close to the water or any of the trees near there because he could be hiding. Although, he’s really big. I don’t think he could really hide.”

Alligators and humans frequently cross paths in Florida as people increasingly seek waterfront homes and recreation. They can be found in fresh and brackish bodies of water, including lakes, rivers, canals and golf course ponds; there is roughly 6.7 million acres (2.7 million hectares) of suitable habitat statewide. They are particularly active during their mating season in May and June.